Phenomenology and Natural Existence:
Essays in Honor of Marvin Farber

Edited by Dale Riepe


THE work of Marvin Farber, his colleagues, and his students, indicates the values and limitations of phenomenology and naturalism. One might have hoped for more analysis of the naturalistic philosophy, but this critique is just now making its appearance on the American scene along with the attacks on the inadequacies of positivism and linguistic philosophy. The next ten years should see a mounting dissatisfaction with these positions.

Phenomenology is above everything else a methodological attempt to find the pure nuclei of processes of subjective experience. In doing this it has gained the support of numerous idealists and the aversion of naturalists, materialists, and realists of various types. Phenomenology has been avoided rather than attacked for its strong subjectivity, that is to say, before Farber directed criticism to this problem. The collection of essays published in Part II of this volume represents the most sustained criticism yet made of the inadequacies of phenomenology by the realists and objectivists. We need not repeat the specific charges for they have been adequately mentioned in the introductory chapter.

If it is true that a thing cannot be understood without insight into its field and its opposition, then the accounts of naturalism in Part III of this volume are incomplete. A major reason for this is that naturalism has gradually become the tacit orthodoxy of American academic philosophy, where once the norm was idealism tinged with Christianity. Marvin Farber’s view of naturalism is more historically and socially oriented than that of most of his colleagues and students here represented. He has stepped beyond the mechanical materialism of the nineteenth century and has moved in the direction of organic, evolutionary and dialectical modifications of materialism. This naturalism or materialism emphasizes the social and historical instead of the physical and mechanical. Where he parts company with “orthodox” American naturalists is in his concern for a unitary doctrine that includes the social and historical dimension along with the physical and logical. He cannot be satisfied, therefore, with the dualisms and bifurcation inherent in logical or “scientific” positivism or in the American naturalism that runs parallel to it and is intertwined with it.

On the other hand, his impatience with all forms of idealism is widely known. Yet amazingly, it has seldom influenced the rigorous balance he has achieved in his journal. Underneath his suspicion of subjectivism is a strong belief that it is a cover for fideism, an attempt to smuggle feudalism into modern philosophy under various guises. He has just the kind of hardboiled attitude that has given materialists the last word in every scientific and historical argument.

Farber sympathizes with some aspects of the rationalistic and scientific programs of both positivism and naturalism, but differs from them with regard to their conception of philosophy and its methods, problems, and sociohistorical conditions, as well as with regard to their social program, or better, their absence of a social program. Indeed, upon examination, such a program appears to evaporate into cautionary shibboleths. The naturalists and positivists generally refuse the dictum of Aristotle that the arts of man should be directed towards the solution of the political problem. Farber is more Aristotelian than he is Wittgensteinian or Schlickian. He prefers the insights and perspectives of Marx, Engels, Morgan, and Lenin to those of Mach, Carnap, Lewis, or Dewey. Although his name has been so conspicuously associated with phenomenology and Husserl, he owed at least as much to Ernst Zermelo, A.N. Whitehead, Ralph Barton Perry, and H.M. Sheffer, as well as to extensive studies in the natural and social sciences. This had an important bearing upon his formulation of a new phenomenology and an independent naturalistic philosophy.

SOURCE: Phenomenology and Natural Existence: Essays in Honor of Marvin Farber, edited by Dale Riepe (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1973), Conclusion, pp. 390-391.

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